Poetry Writing Contest XXII, First Place (2008)


“Survival” by Susan Cohen of Berkeley, California

When digging in the ashes, sometimes you find a poem. I worked on this one over several years, paring the language while the idea enlarged itself. — Susan Cohen

Cohen will receive $1,000, a certificate to mark the success, and publication both online and in print.


By Susan Cohen

Even a samovar

that rode the boat

with my grandmother, vanished

like the shtetl world

it came from, up in smoke

as if its nickel and its lead

were no harder

or more permanent

than a shoe box crammed

with photos of the long-dead;

than table linens

that had been my mother’s

cross-stitched dowry;

than oil paintings

that hung for years, then

ran at the first lick

of heat. When fire tore

their house down

to the foundation, it erased

every item my parents owned

from six decades of marriage

—except one

small Wedgwood dish,

blue and heart-shaped.

I found the dish intact

where flames had whipped

2000 hardbound books

into creamy ash,

but my parents didn’t want it.

They’d already started over.

I won’t claimI saved it;

I just took the heart

for my mantelpiece.

What saved it was

the ferocious heat

at which Wedgwood bakes

to hardness.



Susan Cohen’s first chapbook, “Backstroking”, won the Acorn-Rukeyser Award from Mekler & Deahl publishers. She’s a journalist in Berkeley, California.

“Survival” © 2006 Susan Cohen

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